Keynotes and Cocktails: Championing And Empowering Women In Media

11/24/2016 06:29 pm ET

This article was co-authored by Chris Hadley, who writes for the online web series magazine Snobby Robot, and for the film music magazine Film Score Monthly Online. In addition, he is the writer/creator of the cable news satire/parody THE LATE, LATE NEWS.

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As a longtime journalist and commentator on media issues, and as former editor-in-chief of respected media magazine Broadcasting and Cable, Melissa Grego has achieved enormous professional success in the entertainment industry. At the same time, she has also seen how difficult it continues to be for women to reach equal status on the creative and executive levels in the male-dominated world of entertainment.

With that in mind, Grego founded Melinc, a company devoted to bringing together talented women in all aspects of the entertainment industry through regularly scheduled conferences, media content, and a soon to be launched professional networking service, The Melinc Membership Network. (More on that ahead).

A crucial part of that outreach is the Keynotes and Cocktails conference series, a twice yearly, bi-coastal, off-the-record set of panel discussions and one-on-one networking sessions geared towards championing and guiding female creators, executives and entrepreneurs throughout the entertainment industry.

Having launched in 2010 with its first event, Women of Hollywood in Los Angeles, the Keynotes and Cocktails discussion series premiered its Women of New York conference in 2011, and expanded the L.A. edition’s focus beyond Hollywood to include all of media, entertainment and related tech four years later, renaming it Women of The West.

The latest edition of Keynotes and Cocktails: Women of New York takes place on December 6th from 7:30 AM-12:30 PM Eastern at New York’s Paley Center for Media. (A link to the event’s web site, featuring its complete schedule and ticket purchase information, is available at the end of this article.) As in the past, the event is chock full of informative discussions that cover both the show and business aspects of showbiz.

Panelists include Caryn Mandabach (legendary producer of series like Roseanne, The Cosby Show, Third Rock from The Sun, That ‘70s Show and Nurse Jackie), Mona Scott-Young (executive producer of VH1’s Love and Hip Hop, founder/CEO of production company Monami Entertainment), and Cartoon Network/Boomerang/Adult Swim president Christina Miler, just to name a few.

Rounding out the proceedings is a chat with Judy McGrath, who oversaw MTV Networks as its chairman and CEO, and who now runs the new youth-targeted media company Astronauts Wanted (a joint venture with Sony). Grego talks in-depth about the inspiration for, and history of, Keynotes and Cocktails, how female filmmakers and business leaders can benefit from attending, and the topics that will be discussed over the course of the upcoming Women of New York conference.

CH: How did the Keynotes & Cocktails conference series come about? What (and/or who) inspired you to come up with the concept for it?

MG: The inspiration came out of my experience. We launched the Keynotes & Cocktails format in Los Angeles in 2010 while I working as Executive Editor of TV industry publication Broadcasting & Cable. (Later, I was promoted to Editor-in-Chief, marking the first time a female editor would hold that position in B&C’s more than 80-year history.)

I saw an opportunity to serve the women of the media, entertainment and tech community with something of an alternative conference format. Many of the events at the time for women were based on awards or power lists that, in my view, were often counterproductive because they pitted women against each other for their place on the ranking or awards rundown.

At B&C, we were looking to expand our events business, and I saw that gap among the women’s events at the time as an opportunity to present a format that could bring the kind of wisdom and support I benefitted from to other members of the industry. While many of the planned speeches at existing events were often inspiring, I craved more tangible insight and information from women who had come before me about how they handled the kinds of things I had begun to encounter as I grew in my career.

I make a habit of bouncing new challenges off of more experienced women, many of whom shared incredibly helpful, real, tactical insight over the years. Often, these conversations were over an off-the-record cocktail that not only produced solutions for me, but (also), long-lasting relationships with leaders in the industry.

It struck me that a lot of people could benefit from this type of dialogue, and the format blossomed from there. It’s really designed to provide a forum for all women working in our space to benefit from the wisdom and network of our industry leaders. One of the execs I talked to about some career pathing issues suggested we do it off the record. That is a distinguishing factor that has become even more powerful the more social media is part of everyone’s life.

Among our speakers in L.A. that first year were former Disney/ABC TV chief Anne Sweeney, at that time considered the most powerful woman in entertainment, Shonda Rhimes (creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal), and former CBS Entertainment Chairman Nina Tassler. They all joined an off-the-record conversation on stage, and we paired the speaker program with a networking cocktail reception.

In this format, our speakers don’t have to watch every word, and they feel free to share the kinds of insights that I was privy to over cocktails or tea. For attendees, we find people like taking a few hours off from the pursuit of the retweet. To just be there and (to) take in the information (and) insight, and to make the in-person connections, is a huge relief, and a nice respite. You can actually hear what people are saying.

CH: What are some of the primary objectives you hope to achieve through Keynotes & Cocktails, and through your involvement in the event?

MG: My primary objectives are for as many women working in media, entertainment and tech as possible (to) come away with inspiration, resources and new business contacts that, combined, will propel them to thrive in their career. That could mean striking a deal at the event, changing jobs, getting a promotion or quitting their current role and starting a new business – all of which has happened at, or after an edition of, Keynotes & Cocktails.

CH: As someone who’s worked in various levels of the media business, including as Editor-in-Chief of Broadcasting & Cable, describe how you’ve used your experience and knowledge of the industry to help women who want to achieve success in it, and how you’re channeling that experience and knowledge through each aspect of Keynotes & Cocktails?

MG: I started my company Melinc (“mel-link”) in 2015 and acquired the Keynotes & Cocktails conference series from my former employer B&C with an eye toward being of service – and creating a business around – the network and knowledge I’ve developed over nearly 20 years covering the TV and media business.

I do that through the production of these conferences; production of other industry conferences with diversity and inclusion in mind; and other forthcoming initiatives such as salons we have planned for L.A. and New York City in 2017; (plus) a membership network that will help further the conversations and connections made at our events, as well as (continuing) to provide consulting on an individual basis.

Some of the primary ways I channel my experience is in programming the conferences – I try to use my knowledge of who the leaders in the industry are, what insight they have to share, and how various panelists and moderators might fit well together. I also structure the program based on the evolutions in the business and career-pathing issues I see in our business community.

One thing that has become evident to me over the years is that there’s a unique power in connecting women in media, entertainment and tech. There are a lot of great conferences for women in business in general, or women in more focused areas of media, entertainment or tech. At our event, we’ve seen (that) this larger, connected community among these three business areas represents a sweet spot.

There’s a lot that women working in these areas can relate to each other on, and it’s broad enough that they, on average, will hear from different voices than they do at other events. A lot of times, we’ll see that the person who motivates someone to buy their ticket to attend is absolutely interesting and insightful, but someone from a different corner of the business may be the person who says that thing on stage that blows their mind. That’s one of the most fun aspects for me!

CH: There will also be networking sessions during the Keynotes & Cocktails event. Describe how they’ll work, who will be involved, and how participants can benefit from taking part in them.

MG: We plan about a dozen, expert-led break-out sessions, which are intimate conversations around a table of about 10 people for about 30 minutes. The idea here is to provide an organized way for people to meet colleagues and peers with similar interests and the access to the leader. We plan roundtables on such areas of the business as Ad Sales + Marketing, Digital Media, Programming + Development and such career issues as Changing Careers and How to Create Great Corporate Culture. Attendees are offered the opportunity to request their preferred break-out topic/leader after they register.

CH: The entertainment industry continues to struggle with inequality, even at the executive levels. What can events like Keynotes and Cocktails, as well as the work of your company Melinc, do to help bring about positive change and equal opportunities for women who work in the industry, including those currently in management positions?

MG: I always try to be clear – I know I alone will not be solving the entire gender equality issue on my own! But, I can do what I can do, which includes the work we do with Keynotes & Cocktails, the salons we’re planning, and the upcoming Melinc Membership Network. We always are looking to partner with, and support, other efforts to empower women and (to) increase opportunity. Informally, I enjoy being a connector in our industry, helping to facilitate introductions or (to) point people in a recommended direction. We’ll formalize that with the membership network.

Overall, what we aim to do is to help demystify the path to success by hosting sessions where the most accomplished leaders share stories of their favorite mistakes, how they faced common issues and their approaches to those challenges. (That) is (something) both inspiring and tactical. I think it’s really easy to forget that people who achieve at a high level have encountered many of the same things those of us still working our way to that level run into. Hearing their strategies for handling these things, and how to lead effectively and (to) be a good example, empowers others.

CH: For women currently working in the entertainment industry, including those who seek higher positions at studios, networks and production companies, what advice do you have for them as they continue to pursue success in this field?

MG: Same as I always tell people entering the business – ask, read and keep an open mind. Ask people you admire about their path, ask for help, ask for advice. Read everything you can about the business to learn about the dynamics, how the industry and companies are structured, technological changes, changing consumer habits and the opportunities out there. Get in a habit of making this part of your day, so that you are informed.

Keep an open mind. You never know where the next opportunity will be. It’s good to have goals, and (to) know where you want to go, but rarely is any career path linear, especially today.

Paying attention to company culture is an important one, too. If a company values different things than you do, or things that are different from your strengths, you may find yourself running into walls and really frustrated.

Also, know that your greatest security and path toward growth is being great at what you do, having good, functional working relationships, and being engaged in the world around you. I understand the thrill of working for a company you always dreamed of working for, but no one company equals security. I’m not saying don’t be loyal, but keep in mind you’re your best asset!

Complete details on speakers and ticket information for this year’s Keynotes and Cocktails: Women of New York event can be accessed here:

Keynotes and Cocktails Series

Thanks to the support of sponsor Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Boomerang, Women of NY is offering 10 complimentary registrations for the conference. This opportunity is open to everyone who wishes to apply for assistance with the registration fee, and the brief application is due by SUNDAY, NOV. 27. Information on how to apply and the offer’s rules are here: http://tinyurl.com/zxw8z5a.

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